I always sit up and take notice when E.D. Hirsch sends out an alarm. He’s the Core Knowledge guru–students need to learn basic knowledge about the world. Let’s call that stuff. It turns out that reading cannot be taught in a vacuum as a series of discrete skills that are supposedly transferable.
It turns out that students who know stuff, can comprehend what they read better. Students who don’t, can’t comprehend the material before them–even if they can decode and have phonemic awareness. Isn’t that plain as day? So obvious? Why has that been so hard to explain to a generation of educators? In math, too, students who don’t know number facts (even if they have a calculator) are way behind. They are missing the basic building blocks of knowledge. Stuff. Obvious again.
Too often, special education, as well, focuses on skills in isolation. Decoding, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, etc. With all the focus on skills, too often, these students are not exposed to a rich curriculum and learning stuff. So, E.D. Hirsch’s warnings apply to students with disabilities as well. We need to teach stuff as well as skills. One without the other is unsatisfying. And it doesn’t work well.